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Book Sections Year : 2018

The quest for absolution and immunity: Justifying past and future torture in the name of democracy


The 2002-2009 US government’s global kidnap, secret detention programme and the use of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ during the period of secret detention has been largely discussed and detailed since it was revealed.2 The impressive list of documents and data, as well as internal and public justifications used by the Bush administration to cover one of the United States’ most controversial and noxious operations, have been thoroughly disclosed and analysed not only by NGOs3 and investigative journalists4 but also through European and American official inquiries5 and academic research networks such as the George Washington University’s National Security Archive6 and the UK Economic and Social Research Council-funded collaborative Rendition Project.7 Amidst the disturbing discovery of such a secretive CIA-led extraordinary rendition and detention programme, the controversy around whether or not enhanced interrogation techniques constitute cases of torture, as defined by international law, rapidly became a very heated and central topic among human rights legal practitioners and scholars. It is not unreasonable to suppose that most if not all intelligence services deploy similar borderline or perfectly illegal practices.8 Spain at war in the 1980s against the Basque clandestine and separatist organization ETA (Euskadi (e)Ta Askatasuna, ‘Basque country and freedom’) deployed a campaign of intimidation, coercion, death squads and targeted killings, hiring thugs with criminal backgrounds to complement the police and intelligence officers’ mission to eradicate Basque radical nationalism.9 During the 19541962 Algerian war of independence, France resorted to torture and intimidation in seeking intelligence about the enemy’s plans and whereabouts.10 The use of the so-called ‘five techniques’ of interrogation and the ‘collusion’ between British intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries in the assassination of Republicans in Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ are also now well documented.11 In each of these cases, the authorities were deeply concerned by the possibility of being caught red-handed. The overall rule, therefore, was to operate under a strict policy of silence and denial.
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Dates and versions

hal-03585706 , version 1 (23-02-2022)



Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet. The quest for absolution and immunity: Justifying past and future torture in the name of democracy. Didier Bigo; Elspeth Guild; Didier Bigo; Mark Gibney. Extraordinary Rendition. Addressing the Challenges of Accountability, Routledge, pp.202 - 230, 2018, 9780815387800. ⟨hal-03585706⟩


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